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Learning Curve

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Award-winning National Archives website, Learning Curve, has had a facelift. Not only does the website look great, but on top of all the fantastic teaching resources, we’ve also added even more useful features.


Go to Learning Curve and you can find:

* New indexes to make finding resources easier

* Workshop preparation materials – a completely new section to compliment our videoconferencing and onsite education workshops

* A new help section and free teacher’s booklet

And of course there are some brand new teaching resources too:

* Domesday Book: what can we learn about Britain in the 11th century?

* Elizabethan Propaganda: how did the English Government try to show that the Spanish were planning to invade England in 1588?

All of the teaching resources follow the History National Curriculum from Key Stages 2 to 5 and are completely free.

More about Learning Curve:

* We are a registered content provider for Curriculum Online

* We were voted the top ICT resource by history teachers in a recent Fisher Trust survey.

* We use the extraordinary range of documents from the National Archives collection, spanning 1000 years of British and world history, to cover multiple subjects with multiple approaches.

Students can use the Learning Curve for researching an essay, a presentation, a report, a piece of course work or an in-depth personal study. You may want to use it for exam revision or to practise your work with sources. Just choose a topic from the Index and get started.

We also have some tips for study skills and further research:

* Using primary sources

* Essay writing

* Exam revision

* A level personal study

* Activities and games

* Links for students

Teachers can include the Learning Curve in their teaching in a variety of ways, ranging from activities in the classroom to use in group work, course work, revision and research. In addition to history, the site can also be used to teach and reinforce literacy and ICT skills.

Types of Learning Curve content


These are lesson-sized activities, usually an inquiry with questions or tasks based on one or two individual sources. They can be used online or printed out for classroom use.

Focus On…

Focus On investigations encourage skills in handling different types of historical sources, including cartoons, documents, census material and film. Focus On Census also supports the National Curriculum element for local history study. These investigations are interactive and some include quizzes.


These provide in-depth information, organised into galleries and case studies that investigate a particular question or theme related to the topic. Pupils are given guided access to primary sources and are encouraged to explore wider conclusions. They learn how to construct an argument and to support it with appropriate evidence.

Interactive tasks, games, worksheets, background information, useful notes on sources, timelines, glossaries and teacher's notes are included. Where the original source is difficult to read, we provide transcripts and sometimes simplified transcripts.

The exhibitions are inherently flexible. It is not necessary to work through a whole exhibition. According to the constraints of time and different courses, individual galleries, case studies or selected sources can be used for stand-alone activities in the classroom. They can be used for homework, group work, coursework, revision or research. You can develop your own source questions if you prefer, according to the specific needs of your pupils.

For full details of how to get the best from the Learning Curve, download our free teachers booklet.


Edited by John Simkin
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This is truly a great website. As the Fischer Family Trust have pointed out in its recent survey of 150 history departments, the Learning Curve has had the most impact on using ICT in the classroom than any other website.


It is worth considering why this is the case. I think the main reason for this is the fact that the site is obviously run by people with recent experience in the history classroom. Most government funded website seem to be run by a committee of civil servants. You not only know what teachers want, you have recruited the right people to deliver it. Although their background is mainly one of textbook writing, they have avoided the trap of producing books online. They have genuinely rethought the creative process by taking on board what this new technology can deliver. This is why it has had such an impact on the history classroom.

I am regularly asked by websites funded by government or lottery money to feature their work in Teaching History Online and Education on the Internet. Much of their work is technically impressive (it is clear that a lot of money has been spent on the project). However, they rarely are in a state where teachers can make good use of the website. They are things to be browsed in the home rather than used in the classroom.

Is there any evidence that the people who give out this money are aware of the success of Learning Curve? Until this is the case, large sums of money will be wasted by government bodies on these websites.

I would like to make two suggestions about the way that the Learning Curve can be improved.

(1) I would like to see the Learning Curve make more use of forum software. In this way the users (teachers and students) can be brought into direct contact with the people who produced the website. I think it is vitally important that there is much more interaction between the users and producers. This can only help to improve the quality of the product.

For example, why don’t you post details of each new unit on this forum? Teachers can then feed back information on how it works in the classroom. They will probably make some suggestions on how it can be improved. One of the great advantages of web technology over print technology, is that it is both quick and cheap to make alterations.

Have you considered using forum software to link your content with opportunities for students to enter into dialogue with the participants in these events. For example, we have recently set up a panel of experts and participants in events, to answer student questions on American history between 1960-66. This is something you might think is worth incorporating into some parts of your website. Over the next few weeks we hope to establish similar sections on Black History, the Cold War, the Welfare State and the Vietnam War.


(2) Have you considered producing a really large, in-depth study. For example, a historical simulation (based on documents) that lasts for several weeks. I remember you telling me you were exploring the possibility of producing an interactive and virtual medieval village. Did anything come of this project? It could be the basis of a good simulation on medieval life for Year 7 pupils.

Although history has been lucky to have talented classroom teachers like Russel Tarr, Andy Walker, John D. Clare, Dafydd Humphreys, Dan Moorehouse and Andrew Field producing free materials for the classroom. It is impossible for them to produce projects that require large sums of money such as that needed for creating virtual reality situations. Maybe you can find a way of working more closely with these people who know what is needed but lack the financial resources to deliver it.

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I certainly concur with John's evaluation of the Learning Curve site. It is securely in my top three favourite web based resources for history. It is also one of the more responsive in terms of feedback from classroom teachers and has thus been able to collect together a mass of much used and welcome classroom resources and activities. There is indeed a great opportunity to further develop this excellent feature through using forums such as this one to try things out and generate feedback from the chalkface.

Particular favourites for classroom teachers are the "snapshots" which offer a series of one off lessons in which the students investigate source material through well thought out structured questioning. Interestingly "snapshots" are amongst the least technically advanced features of the site and are probably the most popular because of the clear structure they offer the teacher for a series of pre planned lessons and the thought that has gone into the nature of the questions and tasks.

I would like to see the site develop the idea of "off the peg" preplanned units for teachers which incorporates flash animation for activities and assessment. Much could be done for instance to enliven and tighten up activities of great potential such as this one on Liberal reforms

I also unclear how Learning Curve is funded. Tom suggests in his initial post the Learning Curve is a COL content provider and yet the resources appear to be completely free for the end user ;)

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  • 1 month later...

Just to agree with John and Andy; I think that the Learning Curve is a brilliant example of what the web can offer to teaching and learning in history. The quality of the instructional design is what provides genuinely 'interactive' and worthwhile learning, and many of my students end up setting better quality tasks when not using ICT after they have had experience of using the site.

On a sadder note, I was dismayed to hear that some schools are having to stop using internet based homeworks because of concers about viruses, worms etc.

History homework often puts pupils off the subject and is seen as a dreary and pointless chore. Using the net offered the prospect of transforming the quality of homeworks which could be set, and getting pupils to be really enthusiastic about the importance and relevance of history to their lives. The Learning Curve is already excellent in lots of different ways, I just wonder whether it could be used by more history teachers as a source of 'safe', interesting and enjoyable homeworks.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree about the overall high standard of the materials. However, I am sometimes disappointed that the material does not include the latest sources available. For example, the John F. Kennedy unit in the Heroes or Villians section.


When dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis the unit includes the question “Did President Kennedy bring about an improvement in international relations? It then goes on to look at the Hot-line and the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

This section would be improved by reference to latest documents released as a result of the Freedom of Information Act in America. For example, the fact that JFK was involved in secret negotiations with Castro in the weeks leading up to his assassination.


This case raises important issues about using sources in the classroom. The original lesson relies on documents released at the time. However, this case is a good example of how certain actions are kept from the public. JFK’s former advisors have admitted that they were very keen to promote a certain image of Kennedy in order to win the 1964 presidential election. Therefore, they were determined to keep these negotiations secret from the public as they believed it would result in him being defeated by a cold war warrior like Barry Goldwater.

The really interesting thing to come out of these documents is that JFK was using people like Lisa Howard, William Attwood and Jean Daniel to negotiate with Castro behind the backs of the CIA. As Arthur Schlesinger has pointed out: “The CIA was reviving the assassination plots (of Castro) at the very time President Kennedy was considering the possibility of normalization of relations with Cuba - an extraordinary action. If it was not total incompetence - which in the case of the CIA cannot be excluded - it was a studied attempt to subvert national policy."

We now know that JFK failed in his attempt to keep his new foreign policy secret from the CIA (Attwood’s telephone in the UN was bugged). Was JFK really trying to negotiate an end to the Cold War in 1963? If so, was that the reason he was assassinated?




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